A standard divorce involving children will include a court’s determination and issuance of an order addressing custody and visitation rights. However, far more issues concern co-parenting than simply who has responsibility for the children. One way to ensure that children are cared for is to use a comprehensive parenting plan. It should be noted that while a comprehensive parenting plan is optional in most states, they are mandatory in a small handful of states. In this guide, some common subjects of parenting plans are explored, as well as why a parenting plan may be right for you.
Custody is a major component of any parenting plan. Custody covers a myriad of topics determining the what, when, where, and how of the children’s living arrangements and care. Many comprehensive parenting plans will also address “edge” cases, which are nonstandard situations that may arise that are unique to a particular family or circumstance, such as if a child has special medical needs or if one parent’s job requires an unusual amount of travel.
One of the most important things to do with custody is how parenting time will be allocated among the parents. By creating a comprehensive calendar of custody, the court and each parent will know in exact terms when the child will be with each parent, for how long, and down to what time custody will transition from one parent to the other. While the schedule can be flexible, a comprehensive custody schedule prevents disputes by laying out general or specific guidelines for who has custody and when.
A parenting plan is a great place to establish who has legal custody at any given time. Parents may stipulate in the terms of the separation agreement whether one of the parents will have sole custody or they will share joint custody over the children. Sole custody generally gives one parent the primary ability to determine important non-emergency decisions regarding the children. Joint custody requires both parents to cooperate and discuss significant decisions while allowing independence in day-to-day and emergency decisions. It should be noted, however, that judges are obligated to act in the best interests of the child, so they generally have the authority to modify or override various choices made by the couple in their separation agreement, including provisions related to custody arrangements.
Another important factor of a custody plan is the terms of exchange. Creating exchange terms will outline where the exchange of custody occurs, often at the parent’s home or at the school, depending on the needs of the parents. For example, if one parent cannot drive, then an exchange plan can outline that the other parent must drop off the children at the non-driving parent’s home.
The parenting custody plan can address what will happen in edge cases, such as when one parent will need childcare for a certain period. Under the terms of the parenting plan, one or both parents may be obligated to alert the opposite parent that they will need childcare and give the other parent the opportunity to take custody of the child for the unexpected period.
Custody agreements can also determine the procedure for taking the child on a travel excursion or move. This creates a clear outline of what kind of permission a parent needs to obtain in order to take their children on an extended trip in order to be fair to the other parent. Oftentimes, one parent can prevent the other from relating a significant distance if it would substantially impair their ability to visit the children.
Another important topic that should be addressed under the terms of a parenting plan is the child’s medical needs. This can include any reservations due to religious concerns, such as refusing blood transfusions or other medical practices that one of the parents finds objectionable. A medical plan can also outline how soon each parent must notify the other about what medical practitioners have seen the child and what occurred in each instance.
One of the most important cultural decisions that parents determine is how a child is cared for educationally and religiously. The parenting plan should outline a mutually acceptable compromise over how the child should be educated, such as whether the child will be homeschooled, privately schooled, or publicly schooled, as well as what religious practices the child will follow.
There are a number of terms that can be agreed upon in a parenting plan with regard to their children’s behavior. For example, how they will be disciplined if they misbehave, what policies they will enforce regarding drug and alcohol use, and what expectations they will communicate to them regarding their conduct.
An aspect of the parenting plan directed at the parents rather than the child, the parental contact section details when it is appropriate to communicate to the other parent and what formats are acceptable to communicate.
For some parents, the subject of discipline is the most important topic of concern. By agreeing on the disciplinary practices in a legal document, parents can establish a set of best practices that they will both be bound by. As with many provisions that may be contained in a parenting plan, if the parents cannot agree on a specific practice, the court will likely issue an order on the matter, which both parents will be bound by.
Many plans will also include a non-disparagement clause, which prohibits each parent from talking about the other in a way that reflects negatively on the other.
If you are looking to create a comprehensive parenting plan that best reflects your method of parenting your child, you can greatly benefit from the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.
Through AAL’s directory, you can find a number of skilled family law attorneys to help you navigate the complexities involved and delicate negotiations so that you can settle on a mutually agreeable plan that the court will accept as in the best interests of your children.